As a new year starts, people look both backwards with judgement and forward with hope. Empowered by the turning of the clocks we make resolutions to take control. I am amazed that it is a ritual confined to the start of a year. We should feel empowered every single day to build the world we want for ourselves. For we are masters, perhaps not of our fate, but most certainly of our reality.
Let me explain. fMRI advanced brain imaging has scientifically proven that ‘reality’ is not just something we perceive around us, it is created inside our minds. We take sensory inputs and using cultural and personal constructs create a ‘reality’ within our brains. The easiest way to understand this is to take the example of the blind spot in the centre of the eye’s retina. We all constantly ‘see’ in this point at the centre of our vision, despite a lack of light sensors. What you see in that spot is a visual fabrication you have inserted, constructed from surrounding information and expectations. Read Oliver Sacks or V.S. Ramachandran to go deeper into the incredible visual, auditory and perception based illusions the human brain can create and believe to be a reality. As neuroscientist Anil Seth points out, neurones in your brain are constantly creating your conscious reality, which is in fact nothing but a hallucination.
“We’re all hallucinating all the time; when we agree about our hallucinations, we call it “reality.” Anil Seth, Neuroscientist
This all links to the excitement I have felt watching the advance of Virtual Reality. As sensory input technology gets better we are at a stage, as illustrated by the work of Mel Slater at UCL and the Events Lab, that we can trick our brains with Virtual Reality to respond as if we are actually in that reality. From laying down memories to physical and mental responses, by changing our perceptual stimuli we change our actual reality. The possibility for therapy, learning, play and also perhaps harm are limitless. We can now craft reality. As Slater points out, the real power of VR is not to reproduce reality as we know it but create totally new realities, ones not even possible in our current physical world. Imagination Labs this year created a VR experience in which the laws of physics were completely changed. Actions in the new world had consequences that were totally new and impossible in this one. With the power of the imagination reality suddenly has no bounds.
And I should add that it doesn’t need computer generated content to change reality. By understanding how our brains take in stimuli we can ‘brain hack’ and change our everyday physical reality. Castello, a Danish cheese brand, recently demonstrated this with a natty ‘at home’ experiment to showcase their newest Brie. By understanding that flavour is created in the brain from a range of stimuli - not just the tongue - you can pick a colour and soundscape that actually changes the flavour of the cheese in your mouth. We spend so much time pairing wine with food, yet you can enhance it with simple crockery alterations. Whilst a small example, it demonstrates how with only a little basic knowledge of the workings of our brain, we can all control reality.
And it is not just our physical reality. - or ‘phygital’ perhaps I should say, as digital and physical are now blending and Mixed Reality looks to be the new norm - but our emotional reality as well. At another one of the Random supper clubs I am a co-founder of, I was recently sandwiched between the ‘experiential artist’ Sean Rogg and the ‘professor of pleasure’ Morten Krinchelbach. Sean’s work uses an intricate manipulation of environment to create transcendental positive emotion in his audience. Morten’s research studies the workings of pleasure in the human brain. One from the arts, the other from science, both men’s work point to the fact that emotional reality is transmutable and depends not just on your environment but how you choose to control and interpret it.
Masters Of Our Own Reality
Perhaps the idea that we can ‘hack our brains’ seems corse. Far from it. We are gathering enough knowledge to increasingly control and enhance our reality with an elegantly impressive level of detail. As New Year’s Eve highlights, this is something we have always felt possible. Science has now not just proven that it is, but also given us the tools and knowledge of how to do so. We should not have to just feel empowered in the fleeting hours of New Year’s Eve but every single hour thereafter. We are truly masters of our own reality.